I am a mom, a grandmother, an aunt, an educator. To perform these roles adequately I have often had to search for the wisdom of Solomon, the compassion of Mother Teresa, the patience of Job, and the understanding of Mister Rogers. There have been times when I have also had to be steadfast in my resolve to discipline the young souls for whom I was responsible in the hopes of guiding them to the right paths of honor and morality. Perhaps the most challenging task of any adult is helping future generations to find their best selves. It is a job that garners much worry and many sleepless nights, but the reward of watching an upstanding adult emerge from the confusions of teenage years is priceless.
Anyone who has accepted the responsibility of loving, teaching, influencing the growth and maturity of a young person knows how difficult it can be, particularly during adolescence. A tiny child may demand so much of our attention that we are left panting with exhaustion. While a teen is far more independent, the challenges of parenting or mentoring are even greater. As the young persons attempts to find their way the influence of peers becomes ever more important. The need to think for themselves often causes them to push adults away in favor of making their own decisions. The pull from the outside world sometimes threatens to overtake all of the hard work that adults have invested. It can be a frightening time for even the most wonderful families each time the teen leaves home to be with friends. There are dangerous situations out in the world, and the possibilities for trouble are many. As adults we hope and pray that the lessons that we have conveyed will assist our young ones in making sound decisions.
We read of raucous parties on college campuses and the sometimes horrific consequences of such events. We know from our own experiences that these kinds of things can create mixed emotions in someone not yet firmly assured of themselves. I remember a few celebrations that went way over the top, and how I waffled between wanting to fit in with the group and longing to get away as quickly as possible. Because my mother was a single parent dealing with a mountain of problems of her own I generally monitored my own behavior lest I add to her cares and woes. Nonetheless, I recall feeling torn and wondering if I looked abnormal to my friends who were partaking fully of the bacchanal. The temptations to take dangerous risks were all around me and I might have indulged under different circumstances. Luckily neither I nor my friends ever went so far as to find ourselves in deep trouble, but the thin line between doing what was right and engaging in dangerous behaviors was never too far away. For some it was simply a matter of never being caught.
I write these things because of the importance of conveying the message to our young of the need to be resolute in avoiding the pressure of a crowd. Temptations will be there as surely as they have always been. Nonetheless there are certain behaviors that they need to avoid out of decency and respect for themselves and the people that they know. They are more likely to remember our lessons if they have seen us model the principles that we preach from day to day. Words are only as good as actions. We have to show them what righteous people do.
One of the reasons that I have loved and appreciated my husband for well over fifty years now is that his mother and father raised him to be an honorable man. His father treated his mother with the highest regard. He has always been a gentleman in every sense of the word. My husband saw the love and dignity of his parents’ relationship playing out in all of his days with them. Additionally it was his mother who spoke to him of his duty as a man to treat all women with the kind of reverence that every human deserves. He fully understood that there was never a circumstance under which it would be right to defile the sanctity of any person. His parents helped to mold him into as fine a person as ever lived. It took work on their part to do so, but ultimately it was perhaps the most important thing that either of them ever did. That is what truly good parenting is all about and I was lucky enough to be the lifelong recipient of their results.
There are of course responsibilities that go along with raising daughters as well. It doesn’t hurt to insist that our young women be fully aware of their surroundings. I used to roll my eyeballs when my mother coached me on the pitfalls of placing myself in harm’s way. I inwardly laughed at her concerns, but when I found myself in sticky situations I fell back on her advice to extricate myself from potential trouble. Over time experience taught me that she wasn’t just an old fashioned soul who had lost touch with the modern world. Indeed she understood all too well that there truly are dangers in the world that we can learn to avoid.
It would be truly wrong to send our children into the fray without the necessary tools to deal with whatever may arise. It is up to us to have frank but non accusatory discussions with our teens and to provide them with the confidence and principles that will allow them to navigate even the most treacherous of waters without coming to harm. Our children are watching and listening more than we realize. We are teaching them even when we don’t try.